Ready Player One and Reading Technology

I’d like to start off by saying that I completely understand why e-readers are attractive and why lots of people have them. They are just not for me. There are all the romantic reasons – I love the smell of a book, I like turning the pages. Hell, I even like the breaks in the spine that mark how much you’ve read and where your favourite pages are. I know that’s an unpopular feeling, but most of the time I like a book to look like it’s been read and loved. There are a few exceptions to that rule (my signed editions of The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Stardust, for instance). I Iike the piles of books that dominate my house and my life. There is very little more soothing to me that browsing a bookshelf.

I don’t like filling my hand luggage with books because a book a day might not be enough for the holiday, or the ache in my back from slouching over a particularly heavy book which I can only read in one position. And whenever I show up at security looking sheepish and someone makes a joke about e-readers, I completely understand why I look like a bit of a fool. And sometimes, I even think that maybe they’re right. Maybe all the romantic reasons I have for reading real books aren’t worth the discomfort of these situations.

Then I read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It was recommended by a friend, who has since regretted this because I hated it so much. I completely understand why she thought I would love it and I do not regret the time I spent reading it. It’s not that it’s a bad book, it’s not that it’s a badly written book, I just felt like my brain was melting when I was reading it.

For those who don’t know, Ready Player One is, for the most part, set inside a computer game. Great concept. Love it. I’ve recently started playing computer games as well, so I felt like I might actually be able to appreciate it. It is also pretty dedicated to 80s pop culture. Sounds fantastic, right? Not for me. We’ll put aside the fact that I didn’t particularly like the narrator. We’ll put aside that the pop culture references were so overpowering that for the first few chapters it felt like I was just reading lists and lists and, oh wait, more lists. Yes, I get that it’s representative of the obsessive nature of the narrator and the world he lives in. And don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoyed bits of it, much to my own chagrin.

It’s the “my avatar selected the sword from my inventory” which really killed me. It’s really effective actually, now that I’m writing it. I felt like I was in the game, maybe not like I was playing, but there was that reminiscent, lingering feeling of having my hands on the controllers. And it is that feeling of never disconnecting, of feeling like I’m still staring at a screen, I’m still plugged in to the technological world, that made me realise that I couldn’t have an e-reader in my life. Not yet anyway.

I look at a computer for a good proportion of my day at work, I check e-mails, I make posters, I add events to our online resources, I send more e-mails.  When I’m home, I watch TV (knitting at the same time obviously) and I play Skyrim. I have a SmartPhone because all my friends are very far away, so I’m tweeting-Facebooking-blogging-texting to keep connections alive. Connecting technologically in order to connect emotionally.

And that is why I can’t have an e-reader. I don’t want to transfer more of my life onto a screen with a battery life. I want to maintain those few hours a day where I’m not living in a digital space, where choosing a random page is a decision that I make and not the work of a randomness algorithm. I’m making it sound like it’s all or nothing, as if getting an e-reader equals leaving print books behind altogether. I know that’s not necessarily the case. I also know that it is exactly what would happen. It’s not an accident that the rest of my life is ruled by technology. If I started, I would adapt. I would get used to only paying pennies for a book, and being able to sit in whatever position I wanted, and taking extra clothes in my hand luggage instead of books. Those romantic reasons I started with would mean less and less. And then all of the things I want tech for would be amalgamated onto one device and I would never disconnect. Like the characters in Ready Player One, I’d be absorbed into that virtual reality world. I don’t know if I’d have the strength to pull the plug.

So for as long as I can, I’m keeping this one area of my life disconnected. There’s no off switch because there’s no on switch.

Until next time. *logs out*

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